Excerpt from “Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad” by Alice Oswald

Juan de la Corte 1590-1660, Achilles Confronting Hector Outside Troy

A short excerpt from Alice Oswald’s epic poem, Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad, published in 2011 by Faber and Faber Ltd., pages 68-71.

And Hector died like everyone else
He was in charge of the Trojans
But a spear found out the little patch of white
Between his collarbone and his throat
Just exactly where a man's soul sits
Waiting for the mouth to open
He always knew it would happen
He who was so boastful and anxious
And used to nip home deafened by weapons
To stand in full armour in the doorway
Like a man rushing in leaving his motorbike running
All women loved him
His wife was Andromache
One day he looked at her quietly
He said I know what will happen
And an image stared at him of himself dead
And her in Argos weaving for some foreign woman
He blinked and went back to his work
Hector loved Andromache
But in the end he let her face slide from his mind
He came back to her sightless
Strengthless expressionless
Asking only to be washed and burned
And his bones wrapped in soft cloths
And returned to the ground

Like leaves who could write a history of leaves
The wind blows their ghosts to the ground
And the spring breathes new leaf into the woods
Thousands of names thousands of leaves
When you remember them remember this
Dead bodies are their lineage
Which matter no more than the leaves

Like chaff flying everywhere at threshing time
The winnowers waft their fans and the wind does its work
And a goddess is there picking the grain from its husk
While a fine white dust covers everything

In Anne Oswald’s own words: “This translation presents the whole poem as a kind of oral cemetery – in the aftermath of the Trojan War, an attempt to remember people’s names and lives without the use of writing. I hope it doesn’t need too much context. I hope it will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side.: an antiphonal account of man in his world. ”